Opinion Web Exclusive

Death penalty proves to be an inhumane act of moral justice


Callie Parrish // The Daily Cougar

Clayton Locket walked into the execution room, took a seat and was strapped down from head to toe. He was injected with a triple-drug cocktail, and at the point where he should have gone unconscious, he instead experienced a seizure. Struggling against the restraints, he said, “Something’s wrong.”

Deciding who deserves death should not be taken lightly and is part of the reason why capital punishment is such a controversial topic.

A study conducted by Amnesty International found that in 2013 the United States ranked 5th for number of executions in the world. The top four were China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Hotel and restaurant management junior Jackie Castaneda sees the botching incident with Locket as a kink in the system.

“It is an important tool for preserving law and order,” Castaneda said. “It was a bad batch and could have happened to any drug.”

A survey recently published by the Kinder Institute of Houston found more than 69 percent of Houston area residents prefer alternative forms of punishment to the death penalty.

Psychology and communication disorders and sciences junior JoAnn Sanchez is part of that 69 percent.

“I find it to be a violation of our basic human rights,” Sanchez said. “I don’t think that the public has sufficient information about botched executions and the history of botched executions to make an informed opinion.”

Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Oklahoma office, said in a statement concerning the botched execution that it comes down to trusting the system.

“This is not about whether these two men are guilty; that is not in dispute,” Kiesel said. “Rather, it comes down to whether we trust the government enough to allow it to kill its citizens, even guilty ones, in a secret process.”

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has records dating back to 1930s on the races of those executed. More than half of those executed between 1930 and 1999 were black, despite being fewer than half of the general population.

“I don’t think a criminal justice system plagued by such (racial) inequality should be in the business of executing,” said law professor and Yale Law graduate David Dow. He has personally represented over 100 death row inmates in state and federal appeals.

Beyond the racial bias that seems to exist, there are financial implications that need to be considered.

“The death penalty does not deter, and it in fact costs significantly more than non-death penalty case. The only real reason is retribution,” Dow said.

He pointed out how currently there is no evidence showing that the death penalty furthers our goal to deter or reduce cost; ultimately, it rests on the belief the one who kills should be killed. However, with this belief, it should be remembered that Gandhi once said that an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.

U.S. policies on death penalty are built on dehumanizing murderers. It’s true that these people did commit monstrous acts, but they are still human. These people love — and are loved — by others.

In addition, a harrowing fact that Dow pointed out was that of the last 1,379 executions in the U.S., 144 of the people sent to death row have been proved innocent.

“That means that for every 19 people we execute, we exonerate two,” Dow said.

It seems that other states are aware of these unsettling odds. In the last seven years, six states have abolished the death penalty. The total now stands at 18 states that abolished this sentence, including Maryland just this last year.

This begs the question: why is something so fundamental — our right to decide if another human can live — still a partisan issue? Given that some still feel that capital punishment serves as a deterrent, one needs to assess the effectiveness and timeliness of this process.

For example, Locket was sentenced to execution for a crime he committed in 1999, making one wonder how effective a sentence is that is set in part to deter others when it is carried out 15 years after the crime.

A study led by a University of Colorado researcher found that 88 percent of the nation’s leading criminologists do not see the death penalty as an effective deterrent, while 78 percent of those surveyed also say that murder rates are not lower in states with the death penalty.

Thus, the hope that the fear of the death penalty will dissuade others from committing crimes seems futile, especially regarding the efficacy of this scare tactic on citizens with lower mental capacities.

Just two weeks after Locket’s execution, a federal appeals court halted the execution of a convicted killer, Robert James Campbell, on the grounds of mental impairment. The contention of the appeal brought before 5th Circuit was that he was not mentally competent due to his intelligence quotient of 69 — the court-mandated minimum for the death penalty is typically an IQ of 70.

Campbell’s lawyers also argued that the maker of the cocktail to be used for his execution needed to be revealed given the recent botched execution of Locket.

Tamler Sommers, associate professor of philosophy, firmly states that he is against the death penalty.

“I don’t think it’s the business of the state to end the life of its citizens,” Sommers said.

However, he points to Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic for his idea for an honest use of the death penalty: why not bring back the guillotine?

“It’s quick and painless. And its gruesome,” Sommers said.

The employment of bloodless methods like lethal injection only serves to protect the sensibilities of death penalty proponents. Sommers further noted that he strongly favors making justice as personal as possible.

One may question how other countries go about capital punishment.

Executions in Iran are often carried out publicly. Children, mothers and families gather around or pass by during these public hangings. In Iranian law, the victim’s family has a say over the act of execution.

This was the case for Balal, a man that was to be hung just weeks before Locket in a different part of the world. Right before the hanging was to occur, the noose was removed from around his neck by the mother of his victim. She had forgiven him.

Given the gallimaufry of sometimes conflicting data both for and against the use of the death penalty, we must question even more this issue that our nation is fundamentally divided on. If we are to carry on with the death penalty, there needs to be a way we can ensure that it will not only be error-free, but that it will also be effective in decreasing homicide rates.

If we are to abolish capital punishments altogether, the country would need to decide what would stand in lieu of them, and whether it would serve as more of a financial burden than an effective measure to improve society as a whole.

Opinion columnist Kourosh Zakeri is an optometry graduate student and may be reached at [email protected].


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  • This article takes a reasoning look at the death penalty, apart from religious concerns, and in the last 2 paragraphs gives a sensible analysis of its current status in our country. Kourosh Zakeri missed citing the 2014 report from the National Academy of Sciences which conservatively estimates that 4% of condemned prisoners are actually innocent. Is our criminal justice system ever going to be error free? Is there really any HUMANE way to deliberately take a life? Because convicted killers didn’t show mercy to their victims, should We the People do the same? I joined the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and urge anyone who questions execution as a form of justice to check out http://www.ncadp.org.

  • These data and facts presented here are compelling. I’m also surprised to hear some opinions from impressive faculty here at UH. I personally think Texas should also end the death penalty and start addressing the core issues. I have a number of friends that support the death penalty only because of their brainwashed (from their parents) political loyalty. We need to look at the facts ourselves and consider whether the death penalty is effective. Look forward to more of your columns Kourosh Zakeri.

  • The death penalty is something I feel strongly that we must stop all together. We as humans should not decide who gets to live and who doesn’t. Facts and figures like these point out some of the many issues with the system.

  • Thought-provoking and interesting article. It’s good to see our faculty put to good use; we have such breadth and depth of expertise here on campus! I especially liked that both sides of ethics – law and philosophy – were represented.

  • The death penalty not only reduces crime it also deters others from doing the same things. It’s an important part of our legal system.

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